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Empress Hornblower sails into the past

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About 250 formally and historically dressed guests gathered at the L Street Dock on Front Street in support of the preservation and exploration of Sacramento’s historical legacy Friday evening. Under the guidance of the Historic Old Sacramento Foundation, party-goers traveled through the 1850s, 1960s and back to the present on the Empress Hornblower along the Sacramento River for the hour-long cruise Casino Royale on the River: Where Old Sacramento Meets Monte Carlo.

This was the second year HOSF had hosted the event to raise funds for its educational and interpretive programs, including the historical exhibitions in the Sacramento History Museum on I Street.

Last year the event was held on the Delta King, and while “the whole thing was a hoot and wonderful success,” the foundation wanted to spice things up a bit, deputy director Kristina Swanson said. Not only did this year’s vessel allow for about 100 more passengers, it provided people with the wonderful experience of a leisurely ride down the river that started the city of Sacramento.

As guests made their way to the boat, they were encouraged to spin a wheel for prizes before being warmly greeted by the captain and crew. Upon entering the ship, they were immediately transported into an 1850s casino room with the help of the live folksy music of Claudia’s Kitchen.

With feathers, petticoats and top hats abound, several members of the Old Sacramento Living History Program were fully dressed in authentic 1850s garb, manning the floor and at least 14 gaming tables. Set both port and starboard, the volunteer gang was more than ready to help guests gamble away their complimentary bag of playing chips.

Not only did the members look the part, they acted it as well. At the Faro card table, working women Flora “Lily of the West” and Miss Bud, “A Flower-in-Training,” refused to leave character. With Derringer pistols visibly placed in their bosoms, anyone could see this was serious play.

Flora reported having to pull her piece out on a cheating party-goer, and Miss Bud wasn’t too shy either, threatening another guest who dared to question the “period appropriateness” of her husband’s costume.

After a bit of nudging and lots of winning on their part, the two women revealed themselves as Catherine Hanson, Flora, and Mary Aye, Bud, and discussed their passion for history, especially Sacramento’s. Hanson works for the California State Library in the history section, and Aye is a docent, leading local school groups on historical tours.

“History is so important, especially that of Sacramento’s,” Aye said. “You really need to learn about the past to know where you’re headed. Most people don’t realize it, especially these days with the focus on standardized testing topics, but Sacramento was such an important part in the development of the West Coast and America.”

If party-goers needed a break from the excitement downstairs, they went up to the second floor, with specially-made Gold Rush drinks in hand, to where James Bond-themed cuisine awaited them. While guests were served hors d’oeuvres on all levels, here they could feast on “The Man with the Golden Bun” mini-burgers and “Aston Martini Mashed Potatoes,” while bidding on various displayed auction items.

As guests finished emptying their pockets and filling their stomachs, they were able to dance their way up the stairs and back into the present day to more contemporary tunes spun by a live DJ on the third floor. On the rooftop, guests were able to take advantage of the warm weather, slight breeze and gorgeous view of Sacramento as the boat glided along the Sacramento River during sunset.

Executive director Marcia Eymann, explained how the boat ride is both a fun experience and great way to remind and share with people how important the Sacramento River is to the history of the city.

“Location, location, location,” Eymann said. “Outside of Sacramento’s part in the Gold Rush, because of this river, Sacramento was and is such an important part of history. For example, historically speaking, because of the river, Sacramento was once San Francisco’s No. 1 trading partner, as well as the ‘fruit basket’ of America.”

Prior to the ship’s voyage, VIP ticket holders, which included a number of former and current elected officials and local dignitaries, attended a reception at the Sacramento History Museum, where Former Mayor Burnett Miller was honored as the first ‘007 Hero of Historic Old Sacramento’ for his continued contribution to the preservation and development of the area.

Former Sacramento Mayors: Heather Fargo, Burnett Miller and Phil Isenberg
After the honoree was roasted and toasted by a few of his friends and colleagues, Miller talked to The Sacramento Press about his investment in the history of Sacramento.

“Myself, my father, my grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather all lived in Sacramento,” Miller said. “So there is obviously a personal interest, but mostly I’m invested because I enjoy it so much.”

“The history of Sacramento is important, and people of Sacramento should be invested, if not because of that, then simply because it is their community and thus their history.”

The Historic Old Sacramento Foundation has been providing historical programming for Sacramento since 1985.

For more information on their mission and various events and programs, check out their site.

Photos by event photographer Tia Gemmell, Riverview Media Photography

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